And that was MIGHTY MARVEL MAY!


And that’s it! My top 30 favorite Marvel Comics character in minibust form. So many fun characters had to be left out (Sorry Blade! Sorry Kingpin! Sorry everyone in Power Pack! Punisher- you’re still a Spider-Man villain to me, and I didn’t have room for Norman Osborn, the ne plus ultra of Spidey villains, so you didn’t make the cut).  Marvel has been publishing for more than 70 years, have thousands of characters, and occupied most of my childhood and young adulthood.

For all my love of this vast fictional universe, in this series I’ve tried to pay homage to the creators of these characters. It’s very easy to think of the Marvel Universe as an almost organic whole, and that these stories will be there every month without fail, but without Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, John Romita, Gene Colan, Steve Gerber, John Byrne, Chris Claremont, and so many more there would be no Marvel Universe. These people gave words and form to the imaginary heroes who have thrilled us. As a kid, I may have wanted to swing across a cityscape like Spider-Man or have the strength of the Thing. But as an adult I wish I could create something to inspire people the way Jack Kirby has.

‘Nuff said.

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MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #25: WOLVERINE

The short, hirsute, surly Canadian Wolverine is one of Marvel’s best-loved characters (and, sadly, their most over-exposed). He first appeared in THE INCREDIBLE HULK #180 in a cameo and fully in #181 in 1974, supposedly the result of a bet that writer Len Wein couldn’t write a phonetic Canadian accent in a comic book. Luckily for everyone, he didn’t try. Artist Herb Trimpe drew the issue, but John Romita designed the character’s distinctive costume and signature claws; three, foot-long blades that protrude from the back of Wolverine’s hands.

A few years later, the character was dusted off and added to The X-Men’s roster where his job for several years was to launch himself head-first into battle and be knocked unconscious. It was during writer Chris Claremont’s tenure on the book that Wolverine changed and became a richer, more interesting character. He took years to add details here and there: Wolverine’s vague backstory as a soldier and woodsman; his history with the Weapon X program which gave him his metal-laced bones and claws; his love of Japan and its culture. He was intriguing because, unlike most superheroes, we didn’t know his origin. If Claremont did, he kept it to himself. We encountered Wolverine as his friends did: a dangerous fighter and loyal friend, but otherwise, we knew next to nothing.

Of course comics are too thuddingly obvious to leave anything about any character a mystery, so eventually all the unspoiled wilderness of Wolverine’s past was filled with garbage. He went from an interesting enigma to someone whose every moment of existence has been chronicled and cross-referenced. Until nothing of interest is left.

Here’s what you need to know about Wolverine: he comes from Canada. He is a mutant whose superhuman healing and heightened senses attracted unknown parties (the Weapon X Program) to experiment upon him, lined his bones with metal and gave him claws. He spent time in Japan, a place he feels very at home. He’s a member of the X-Men who frequently travels the world on his own adventures, usually out of a sense of obligation to others.

He’s the best there is at what he does, and what he does isn’t very nice.

I depicted Wolverine, in civilian clothes, looking tired. Because I think he would be, don’t you?

Don’t miss tomorrow’s installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY- it’s sure to make a big splash!

MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #23: LUKE CAGE, HERO FOR HIRE

In the 70s Marvel experimented with mixing superheroes with genres popular outside comics, such as martial arts (MASTER OF KUNG FU, IRON FIST), Satanic horror (SON OF SATAN), motorcycle culture  (GHOST RIDER), and blaxsploitation with LUKE CAGE, HERO FOR HIRE. Cage, the character and his comic, were both manifestly exploitative and well-meaning. The character was created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita written and (mostly) drawn by white men. The character was an innocent man who was sent to prison, volunteered for an experiment which gave him superhuman strength and “steel-hard skin” who escaped and used his powers for the good of the common man. For a price.

Operating like most private eyes (and a lot like Shaft), Cage set up in a dingy Times Square office over an “art house” movie theater and took superhero cases on a per diem basis, although he’d often waive or lower his fees for the needy. Despite his often angry and “steel-hard” demeanor, and signature exclamation of “Sweet Christmas!” (filling in for any real profanity in a comics code-approved book) Cage was a soft touch.

Eventually Cage adopted the more superheroic moniker Power Man, but it never seemed to stick. He also partnered with the costumed martial artist Iron Fist to become a crimefighting duo for pay.

In the last decade, much effort has been made to update Cage, his yellow shirt, metal tiara and afro now considered too dated, and he’s been given a more contemporary shaved head and goatee. He’s also lost any semblance of a costume, which strikes me as too self-consciously “cool.” Superheroes are and ever will contain some ridiculous whimsy and efforts to make them cool often underline this rather than obfuscate it.

Cage joined the Avengers, a much better-paying superheroing gig. He also fathered a child with former superheroine Jessica Jones, whom he married. Fatherhood and matrimony agreed with Cage, but he remains as “steel-hard” to his fellow Avengers as ever.

Tomorrow another incredible installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY.

MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #21: DAZZLER

Poor Alison Blaire. All she ever wanted to do was be a rock star. Poor Dazzler. She was secretly a mutant who could transform sound into light. Poor Marvel. Too late to cash in on the roller disco craze.

1980 was an amazing year, neither 70s or 80s. It was entirely transitional. Disco was over, but MTV was just an idea. Image was becoming synonymous with sound where popular music was concerned. The movie XANADU is 1980 in cinematic form. The hero Dazzler is 1980 in superhero form.

Introduced in UNCANNY X-MEN #130 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, Dazzler was actually created by writer Tom Defalco and artist John Romita, with input by Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter as a promotional tie-in between Casablanca Records and Marvel Comics. Some of the earliest development drawings depict her has a tall black woman with close-cropped hair, once again recalling singer Grace Jones. The Casablanca deal was complicated and at one point there were negotiations for a film starring Bo Derek, hot from the movie “10.” But Bo Derek came as a package deal with husband John Derek and the film died in development.

Never one to throw a viable idea away, the character was introduced in an X-Men story before being launched into her own book. In it, Dazzler was a performer first and only very reluctantly a hero second. The title was never great, but Dazzler, the character, charmed me. Ridiculous as her premise was, no matter how unlikely the occasional appearance of Spider-Man or the X-Men,  Dazzler herself was strangely earnest and compelling. She just wanted to perform for the people. Who could hate that?
Tomorrow another powerful potentate of the printed page in the next installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY!

MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #14: MARY JANE WATSON

“Face it, tiger…”

Before she was finally revealed by creators Stan Lee and John Romita in SPIDER-MAN #42, the running joke was that Peter (Spider-Man) Parker didn’t want to be set up with Mrs. Watson’s niece Mary Jane. Steve Ditko had teased readers with glimpses of her here and there, suggesting she was a high-fashion femme fatale. But when Peter opened the door to meet her, it was Romita’s version that greeted him.

Peter was smitten with Gwen Stacy at the time, and MJ was introduced to complicate things with a love triangle. She was immediately irrepressible, the ypart girl to Gwen’s chaste girl-next-door. Peter was destined to be with Gwen, it seemed, but MJ was hard for him- and readers- to resist.  She was fun but troubled. Smart but irresponsible. Lovable but frustrating.

Eventually Gwen was murdered by the Green Goblin. Over a surprisingly long time, Peter and Mary Jane became a couple. A retcon (retroactive continuity addition) had Mary Jane declaring she’d known Peter was secretly Spider-Man all along, had loved him from afar, but couldn’t be with him because of it.  They were eventually married, had numerous rocky years, and their marriage was, after two decades, magically annulled by editorial fiat in a story too dumb to waste any time on. Such is the grind of monthly comic book continuity.

Because she was never designed to be Spider-Man’s girlfriend- at the time that was Gwen- Mary Jane’s life didn’t revolve around his the way numerous other superhero-accessory-girlfriends seem to. She had her own interests, and disappeared from Peter/Spidey’s life for long stretches. Later stories would suggest a more longstanding connection between her and Peter, but they were never able to tamp down the larger-than-life spirit that first told Peter that, upon meeting her, he’d “hit the jackpot.”

That’s all for today, but don’t be blue: more MIGHTY MARVEL MAY tomorrow!